Prather's Pick: 'My Story' a difficult read about Elizabeth Smart

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Diane Prather

At about 2 o’clock on the morning of June 5, 2002, Elizabeth Smart was taken from the bedroom of her Salt Lake City home. She was just 14 years old, the daughter of a close-knit Mormon family. Elizabeth was held captive for nine months.

“My Story,” written by Smart with Chris Stewart, is her memoir of those horrific nine months. The book, copyright 2013, is a new one at the Moffat County Library.

Smart's captor, a religious fanatic, was Brian David Mitchell. Although she wasn’t with Mitchell when he kidnapped Smart, his wife, Wanda Barzee, was an accomplice.

Smart had seen her captor before. The first time was in November 2001 when she was with her mother and siblings as they shopped in downtown Salt Lake City. Mitchell was a beggar on the street, and Smart’s mother felt sorry for him, so she gave Mitchell $5. She also gave him her husband’s phone number because Smart’s brothers thought he might do some handiwork around their home.

And he did work for the family, all the time closely watching blonde-haired, blue-eyed Smart. He was planning to make her another wife.

In a chapter at the beginning of the book, Smart explains what she later found out about Mitchell. He had three marriages and 13 children and stepchildren. He married Barzee the very first day after the divorce from his second wife was finalized.

Mitchell was a pedophile and a manipulator, and he had a history of drugs, alcohol and pornography. He had no job and no money, so to get food, he panhandled (“plundered” is the way he put it). Mitchell considered himself to be Immanuel, a prophet.

“Taken” is the chapter in which Smart recalls the early morning she was kidnapped from her home. Amazingly, Mary Katherine, Smart’s 9-year-old sister, was asleep beside her when Mitchell came into the bedroom. The little girl was so terrified that she didn’t tell her parents until two hours later.

By that time, Mitchell was leading Smart up the steep mountain east of Salt Lake City to a camp made up of a small tent and some tarps. Barzee waited there for them.

Mitchell put a steel cable around Elizabeth’s ankle, the end of which ran out of the tent to a tree. He threatened Elizabeth, saying that if she screamed or tried to run away, he would kill her and her family.

Smart takes the reader through those terrible months that she was held captive. She was raped, brutalized and sometimes left without food and water for days. In fact, she and Barzee were left at camp while Mitchell went to “Babylon” to plunder for food. When he did return, the food wasn’t so great, either. Sometimes, it was tortillas covered with mayonnaise, crackers or scraps from fast food. He brought wine and other kinds of alcohol, too, which he forced Smart to drink. But through it all, Smart had hope.

It is difficult to comprehend how a person can horribly abuse another, so it is difficult to read this book. However, at the same time, it is uplifting. Smart shares her philosophy about survival and recovery with the reader and with audiences at her public speaking engagements. She has transformed herself from victim to advocate.

Smart is president of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation. In 2012, she married Matthew Gilmour.

Stewart is a New York Times best-selling author. He also has won national awards for his work. Stewart has written more than a dozen books.

“My Story” is published by St. Martin’s Press. It costs $25.99 in hardcover.

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